Many of Dickinson’s best poems are about death, loss, or feelings of depression or sorrow. These emotions came easily to her and although it is wrong to assume that she is the speaker of ‘From Blank to Blank,’ it is not out of the question. What is even more notable about this piece is the fact that by the end there is a turn. Things change for this speaker. With one small act, her vision of the world changes. She closes her eyes and for the first time feels a little hope and sees a little light.
From Blank to Blank Emily DickinsonFrom Blank to Blank—A Threadless WayI pushed Mechanic feet—To stop—or perish—or advance—Alike indifferent—If end I gainedIt ends beyondIndefinite disclosed—I shut my eyes—and groped as well’Twas lighter—to be Blind—
Explore One From Blank to Blank
‘From Blank to Blank’ by Emily Dickinson is a dark (with a surprisingly optimistic ending) poem that discusses the maze-like struggle of life.
In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker describes the maze she’s moving through. It is “threadless,” meaning that there is no way out. There’s no path to follow. Everywhere she looks is filled with darkness and “Blank”. She also describes, through the use of dashes and caesurae, how it doesn’t matter at this point whether she lives or dies.
In the second stanza she adds that when she thinks she’s gotten to the end of one part of the maze, she realizes there is more nothingness just around the corner. The poem concludes with the speaker closing her eyes and realizing that just that act brings her a measure of peace.
The major themes in ‘From Blank to Blank’ are isolation/solitude, existence, and direction, or lack thereof. These three themes, which could be expanded into several more encompassing the nature of life, are integral parts of the metaphorical maze that Dickinson has created. Her speaker is isolated in this place, separate from anyone who could help her or even an understanding of what she needs help with. Depending on how one reads the maze in this poem, her “existence,” and what she’s fighting for or against will mean something different. Whether the maze is a symbol of depression, loneliness, or grief, she is just as lost.
Tone and Mood
Dickinson’s speaker’s tone throughout this poem is mostly resigned. She is well aware of her fate, to be stuck in this maze forever, and is described, at points more emotionally than others, what this is like. There are moments of repetition in which its clear that she still feels the pain of the situation, but overall she knows what to expect from life. The mood is different, it is much more solemn and depressing. Dickinson brings the reader into this world suddenly. They haven’t had a long period of time to get used to it as the speaker has.
Form and Structure
‘From Blank to Blank’ by Emily Dickinson is a two-stanza poem that is separated into two sets of five lines, known as quintains. These quintains follow a strict metrical pattern. Every line uses iambs or metrical feet that are made up of one unstressed beat and one stressed beat. The first two lines of each stanza have two sets of two beats, known as dimeter. The following lines are trimeter, tetrameter, and one final line of trimeter.
This pattern is unusual for Dickinson, although not as far off of her normal as it could be. Usually, Dickinson makes use of hymn stanzas made up of alternating lines of iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘From Blank to Blank’. These include and are not limited to caesura, metaphor, and alliteration. The latter is seen through repetition, such as the “b” sound in “Blank”. Caesura is an important technique in this poem that helps to create the rhythm of the speaker’s words. This is especially true in the last lines of the second stanza.
Metaphor is perhaps the most important literary device used in ‘From Blank to Blank’. It can be seen throughout the poem, making it an extended metaphor. The speaker compares her world to an empty and exit-less maze that she can’t find her way through. She’s been in it so long that she’s lost the desire to live, move forward, or care about perishing.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
From Blank to Blank—
A Threadless Way
I pushed Mechanic feet—
In the first lines of ‘From Blank to Blank’ Dickinson makes use of a line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. This is a common practice within Dickinson’s work as all of her poems went without titles. They were published after her death and therefore were named and/or categorized by editors and publishers.
The speaker describes in these first lines a terrifying situation. She’s stuck in some kind of unfathomable maze that she can’t get out of. She can only move from “Blank to Blank” with nothingness in between. The repeated hard consonant sounds in “Blank” are a good example of consonance. This helps to emphasize the significance and worry associated with the nothingness that she’s stuck in.
Dickinson does not include very many details about what this nothingness includes, or does not include, but it is easy to connect this imagery to the story of the labyrinth in Greek mythology that Theseus builds to contain the Minotaur. It is “Threadless,” a reference to the thread that Theseus had to find his way out, of and the thread that the speaker apparently doesn’t have.
The most important question to consider in these lines is what the labyrinth represents. It is likely depression, loneliness, or another form of grief or sadness. It’s something hard to get out of, emotionally not physically.
To stop—or perish—or advance—
Like a monotonous machine, the speaker is trying to find her way out of the maze. She’s entered a terrible kind of autopilot that is pushing her forward.
In the last lines of this stanza, the speaker says that it doesn’t matter to her whether she stops, walks, or dies. One thing is the same as another. These last lines are good examples of caesurae, seen through the use of Dickinson’s dashes.
If end I gained
It ends beyond
I shut my eyes—and groped as well
‘Twas lighter—to be Blind—
The second stanza begins with further images of emptiness and sadness. She describes how the world she’s in is filled with empty gains and more empty ends beyond. As soon as she gets to the end of one part of this metaphorical maze she discovers that there is more emptiness beyond it.
In the last two lines of the poem, Dickinson uses more dashes in order to create a feeling of groping blindly through this place. But, ironically, when she closes her eyes she’s less blind than she was with her eyes open. She’s able to see the light more clearly. This ending is vague and very much up for interpretation. Depending on how one reads the first stanza and what the maze symbolizes to every individual reader, the end will be different. Perhaps, closing her eyes is a way of accepting the darkness and emptiness for what it is. Or, maybe by not looking, she’s able to experience a degree of comfort.
The major themes of ‘From Blank to Blank,’ as well as some of the most prominent imagery, and especially the content, can be found in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Alone’ and ‘The Haunted Palace’. The latter, which also uses something to represent the mind, compares it to a dilapidated house. Readers might also be interested in ‘Shut Out’ by Christina Rossetti, and Sylvia Plath’s ‘Tulips’.
Other Dickinson poems that are similar to this piece include ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ and ‘I measure every Grief I meet’.